Mentors, Advisors, Coaches – When to Seek Help from Whom and for What

I have just started a Facebook group for purpose-driven professionals who want to learn career skills that will help them build their career with intention and confidence.

There is such a great discussion that happens there and on a variety of topics. Today’s blog post is an answer to a question about mentorship that a member asked in that group.

I have been struggling with this lately. I have mentors who have often been very generous with their time. At the same time I don’t feel like I have a lot to offer them in return except the intrinsic reward of helping someone, and when things are busy they often become unresponsive, even though I try to make it as easy as possible to help. They just have other commitments that are higher priority.

When I reach out on social media people are quick to offer simple answers that I already thought of but often lose interest when I present more complex questions. In my job search I often have questions that are very time-sensitive, and sometimes people come through, but other times I find myself wasting time trying to get help from people who just don’t have the time to help me. Not only does it take up valuable time, but it’s discouraging and stressful.

Maybe I am expecting too much from my mentors, and what I really need is more of paid tutor / job search support person but I don’t know how to find someone who could do this and feel like it likely would be quite expensive. Do you have any ideas on how to address this?

– RC

Hello RC,

This is a great question. Knowing what mentors can and can’t do for you is important because then you can start looking at other venues to fill the gap. Obviously every relationship is unique but there are some common factors that I have observed from my experience and that of others.

There are 3 different roles I will clarify here:

  1. Mentors
  2. Support group members (Let’s call them advisors from now on for simplicity)
  3. Paid coaches

They all serve a different role in our lives and depending on what your needs are at any given time, you will have to approach one or more of these groups.

1. Mentors

These are the people who are willing to invest time and energy into you just because they want to help. The sheer joy of seeing you grow is their reward. So don’t ever think you can’t offer much to them.

As the relationship grows, usually it so happens that you will help them as well in different ways. But that’s not why they help you. (And this is an important quality to have in a mentor. Look for this.) At the max, a good, longlasting mentor will expect you to be in their corner when need to, maybe refer them to opportunities just as they do for you, and respect their opinion even when you might disagree with it. They want to see you grow and would appreciate you reciprocating their time by putting in your effort to test their ideas (do the homework so to say).

By the nature of this relationship, they will be invested in more strategic, long-term aspects of your growth, not tactical. That’s why when you ask them for tatctical advise, you will often see they don’t respond.

For example, if you are looking for a job, asking them “How do you know if a job offer is right for you?” will be a better question for them than to ask them “Will you please look at my cover letter?” They are driven by making a long-term impact, than helping you with one-time outcomes.

The latter question has urgency in your mind but not in theirs. It’s not fair to put that type of demand on their time. They are busy people so use them wisely.

2. Advisors

For the purpose of this article, I am defining advisors as the people in your network who may have recently faced similar issues and are willing to share their experience, mistakes, and learning. They are your support group, slightly ahead of you in the journey and understand your pain.

This is where the rest of your network comes in. This is basically crowdsourcing the advice.

Facebook groups like “Life Lab”, “Tech Ladies”, LinkedIn groups or genuine connections you make on social media are some of the ways (and these days, some of the most effective ways) to connect with potential advisors and build your network beyond what was possible 10 years ago.

The advisors are driven to help because they feel your pain. They want to talk about their stories. And in most cases, they want to build their own network.

On social media and in real life, sharing, asking for help and giving help is what builds genuine connections. This is THE best networking strategy. So much better than exchanging business cards mindlessly at a networking event or a career fair.

Now, some of these advisors might turn into your mentors as they have for me. Some of them can advise you on strategic pieces just like mentors.

But you have a better probability of receiving your tactical advice from these advisors. For example, you can easily ask a friend to look at your cover letter or ask somebody in a group like this one to look at it.

And here’s how you can increase your chances of getting the advice you seek:
1. Don’t wait until it becomes time-sensitive.

2. If it is urgent, mention that when you ask a question.

3. Be as narrow and as specific as you can with your request.
E.g. “Will you please look at my cover letter for this job?” is too vague, and too time-intensive an ask. Instead ask this: “Will you please look at the first paragraph of my cover letter, and let me know if it conveys to you that I may not have the experience but I am a quick learner?”

4. Ask at multiple places e.g. friends, different relevant groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, maybe in the comments of blogs that you read etc.

5. Continue Googling your way to the answer while all of the above is happening.

6. Know that such a request is a hit or a miss. There are many factors that control the outcome – who sees your posts, what’s going on with them at that time, when you post, where you post. Same goes with your friends via email and phone requests. I mean, look at this question today, I didn’t see it until 15 hours later. It happens!

So what’s in your hand is to increase your chances, but not expect a certain outcome. Don’t lose faith that the system works because it does – just not every single time. Don’t get frustrated or feel like you are not asking the right way, nobody wants to help you. This is also a skill to learn and develop. You get the hang of it as you do more of it.

7. Oh, yes, that reminds me of tagging. When you are in a social media group and know a certain person can help you, tag them. E.g. In this question, you could have tagged me and also indicated that you want to learn from others as well to leave your options open. Saying something like this: “Manasi and whoever can help me out here, I am looking forward to it.”

3. Paid coaches

These are the people who have built their business on helping others. But other than the business part of it, what drives great coaches to helping others is the sheer passion to help, teach, and make an impact.

There are many good coaches out there for whom their business is their “day job”. But like anything else if you want to be great at coaching, this needs to be your passion.

Coaches speed up your learning by teaching a specific skill or a competency all in one place but the main reason people seek paid coaching is to get a mindset shift.

When you feel stuck in a certain way of doing things or in the same phase in your life, the fastest way to get out of the funk is to seek coaching. If you don’t think that’s your need right now, you don’t have to seek paid coaching. It will not be as fruitful. (That being said, many times we don’t know we need it, until we see it. But there isn’t much you can do about it. This is how humans work. 😉 )

Great coaches not only understand your pain but they are experts at solving that problem. They give you the insights that you don’t otherwise have access to through your experience from birth until now.

You know how they say, “You have to see it to be it”. Coaches help you see it.

Such a mindset shift shaves years off your learning curve. That’s why the investment in the right coach, at the right time is so crucial for our growth.

Let me give you an example. Before I started my business, I invested in an online coaching program. My biggest mental block at that time was I don’t have a narrow niche. The marketer in me was screaming that I should define my niche first and then open a business.

But from the coach, I learned that niche comes through clients. The more you serve the more you will know whom to serve and where you are positioned to make the most impact. That shifted my mindset. I announced that I am open for business, and started learning through my clients. My shame of not having a niche was replaced comfort in knowing that it’s OK. I started approaching potential clients with a new found confidence in what I can do for them, even though I didn’t have fancy words to express that.My business grew faster than I could imagine!

I can tell you from what I have observed with many business people is that this is a crippling factor for many. And those who are not fortunate enough like me to get and internalize this advice wait for so long before getting started in their business and still don’t have a niche 10 years into their business.

On the other hand, I have seen some of my fellow entrepreneurs putting coaching on their credit cards. I always thought that to be wrong financial decision. But now I know why I was wrong. Coaching is an investment not an expense. Now these same people have multi-million dollar businesses just a few years in their business.

Now here are some details specifically related to career coaches:
1. The range is WIDE. You can get $99 online service where a resume writer looks at your resume for 30 minutes and gives you guidelines on improving those or you can invest in thousands of dollars to get highly tailored one-on-one coaching. You have to choose what’s right for you.

2. I personally have never invested in just tactical services such as $99 resume review. If I invest in a coach, I want my nuggets of wisdom, the mindset shift. So I have invested in a variety of online coaching programs that are more intensive. E.g. Productivity, online business, learning Italian etc. (I LOVE how much knowledge is at our fingertips because of the internet.)

3. Finding the right fit is THE most important factor in selecting a coach. Fortunately, social media makes it easy. Research about the coach before hand. Read their blog or what they share on social media. Does their story, worldview, ways of expression and conduct resonate with you? When it does, you will learn faster and deeper.

There are many coaches who teach the same things. But what works with you is HOW they teach it. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to agree with everything they say but usually you will find meaning and guidance in many of their points.

Not every coach is made for every person. So don’t rush into investing in one until you see a good fit.

But when you do, don’t wait. You will save so much time on your path to progress.

4. A side benefit of paid coaching is also access to their alumni network. Most of the great coaches these days have some way of connecting their clients. E.g. Facebook or LinkedIn groups, membership sites etc. People here can be great advisors, even mentors and sponsors!

In conclusion:
Constant learning is absolutely important for our professional and personal growth. There are various resources where you can seek such a learning – through mentors, support group members / advisors, and coaches. Be strategic about whom you approach, when, and for what.

Depending on your current need, go for one or more of those. When there is a right fit, the time and / or money you invest in such a learning will shave off years of your learning curve and spring you forward in your career and life. It will open possibilities in your mind that you didn’t know existed.

And when you are a tad bit wiser through this experience, don’t forget to share it with your mentees. 😉

Over to you:
Share in the comments your 1-3 biggest takeaways from this discussion.

Want to become a member of the Facebook Group where you can discuss anything and everything related to your career?
Send a request to join here.

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